Another provocative Fay Weldon headline

According to the headline and subheading in today’s Telegraph, Fay Weldon thinks Katie Price “drinks too much and sleeps with too many people and talks about it too much for common decency”. The more detailed quote, as it appears in The Telegraph, reads on:

“However, the author of The Lives and Loves of a She-Devil said Price, the glamour model otherwise known as Jordan, could be considered an “empowering” role model because she has made a lot of money.

It depends what you think the function of women is,” Weldon said, in a talk at the Richmond Book Now Festival in south-west London.

“If it’s to look good, then she’s fine. If it’s to make a lot of money, then she’s fine. So I suppose she must be empowering for women because one wants them to be prosperous and they like to look good.

“She drinks too much and sleeps with two many people and talks about it too much for common decency, but who of us is perfect?”

If the headline understandably gives the impression that Weldon is making damning and antiquated judgments about Price’s life, perhaps we should be noting the context of “common decency” for her remarks. Separately, I reckon anyone who would sensationally claim Weldon is upholding Price as a role model should consider her use of potentially pertinent question-raising if‘s in her answer to the question about empowerment. (To be fair, at least one source erring towards the second kind of spin refers to “the standards of modern society” within the piece itself.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve cringed at a few of Weldon’s comments in my time (for example, the ones about sex education and teenage pregnancy, as highlighted by Samara, last year). But doesn’t it seem as if her words have been twisted? True, she does seem to be making somewhat of a judgement about Katie Price’s apparent drinking and “sleeping with a lot of people” (and that’s annoying) but I think her emphasis is more on how such behaviour doesn’t fit in with convention, with the basic conclusion that “nobody’s perfect” anyway. Isn’t this ultimately saying Katie Price doesn’t have to be “perfect” according to common standards because, really, nobody is?

It seems to me that the Telegraph is indulging in a spot of feminist baiting here. Of course, this is something Weldon is no stranger to herself (i.e. her frequent self-satisfied “one drink ahead” posturing that seems to scream “been there, done that and now I’m above it!”) but I’m not sure we should be getting pissed off in the manner the Telegraph seems to be nudging us to.

But wait. Weldon also had a few things to say about feminism:

“Once it was only the men who were wage-slaves, and now it’s the men and the women too. You know, I’d really rather blame capitalism… You do feel some qualms for these women who actually have to shove their children’s arms into clothes at five o’clock in the morning and get them off to nursery.”

Yet feminism remains the “least worst” option and has left the majority of women better off, she insisted…

“…There’s never a perfect solution. There’s just the least worst. And least worst is feminist society, which is more or less what we’re getting now. And people on the whole are happier than they were before… although everybody’s much more tired.”

Okay, so these points are irritating insomuch as you can already sense them being gathered up to get pulled out of shape by anti-feminists eager to suggest feminism is a terrible thing that has made women miserable. As Anita Singh and Ceri Radford say, respectively:

Is this really the choice women are faced with: aspiration-free dullard or miserable wage-slave? Must feminism have a “downside”?

“…However imperfect the current state of affairs, it shouldn’t even need saying that a past which tended to consign half of the human race to a life of unending domestic drudgery – regardless of their talents or wishes – is worse”

Despite the potential in her words to fuel more feminist-bashing, I do think Weldon makes a really good point about how far we all have to go in terms of real freedom. After all, it’s one thing to insist that one half of humanity should not be kept out of the workplace in order to make way for the other but quite another to ignore how oppressive full-time wage slavery can be in general. Should we blame capitalism? Absolutely. In another report on the festival interview, Weldon is quoted to say that she reckons about 20% of women are “worse off” after feminism and, though I wouldn’t go that far, it does seem that many women are placed in a position of double jeopardy by being pushed towards either being kept by a partner or stuck in poorly paid work (and often still expected to put in the domestic shift at home in addition to that). However, rather than being some second-rate-best-of-a-bad-bunch choice that conveniently ignores the many women (and, indeed, men) who are still no better off, I’d say feminism has an important role to play in addressing such inequalities.

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